New Mexico’s Crypto-Jews (Jews who survived the Spanish Inquisition, covered their identity and hitched with the Spanish to the New World) have been a hot subject of study and curiosity over the last few years.
Where there are Crypto-Jews mightn’t there be Crypto-Jewish bakeries? Some of us hoped. Turns out there weren’t, and mid-winter dreams of downing knishes and rugelach with our kith and kin in front of a crackling piñon fire were crushed. (Also, it turns out those were the wrong kind of Jews—Sephardic not Ashkenazic.)
But finally, this September Albuquerque opened its first full shebang Jewish-American bakery/deli in the high-traffic Nob Hill Business Center where Papers used to be. Instead of reams of paper, now you can purchase reams of pastrami and sheets of puff pastries glazed with vanilla custard.
I was a big fan of Papers, yet I would say “Let it burn!” to make room for Nosh Jewish Delicatessan and Bakery. (And it could burn easily with all that paper, but I’ll also go on record to say I’m glad it didn’t—they just moved two doors down.)
I don’t think it’s just years of yearning for this particular comfort food that makes Nosh so thrilling. It’s thrilling because the food is actually very, very good.
Jewish-American cuisine is its own ball of wax—distinct from that of Sephardic Jews (Middle Eastern and Mediterranean), Israeli Jews or even eastern Europe, where it has its roots. This means it features old standards like knishes and latkas, the Jewish-American bagel and lox, along with New York favorites like the Brooklyn-based egg cream (chocolate syrup, soda water and milk) and the black and white cookie.
The walls of Nosh are plastered with iconic Jewish celebrities—Barbara Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Bob Dylan … we can’t forget there is a whole culture backing this food—a distinct history, language, humor and yes, a religious code for food preparation. These distinctions cultivate a sense of otherness which tends to pour itself into self-preservation and tradition. That’s usually a very good thing in the kitchen.
I was a big fan of Papers, yet I would say “Let it burn!” to make room for Nosh Jewish Delicatessen and Bakery. (And it could burn easily with all that paper, but I’ll also go on record to say I’m glad it didn’t—they just moved two doors down.)
How kosher is Nosh? Not. In kosher law, meat and dairy don’t mix. Here they do in, for instance, the reuben.
Nosh’s reuben ($11.75), a sandwich with its own cult of devotees, is stacked, peppery, succulent and well-loaded with crunchy Russian-dressed sauerkraut and swiss. I ordered the flagrantly full-fat corned beef (made in-house), but it also comes in pastrami and tempeh versions.
In a whole different camp of flavors is the classic bagel with lox. Nosh’s Nova lox ($10.75) is a lush smoky salmon, briny capers, thin, fresh tomatoes and sweet-sharp red onions; it melds perfectly with the mildly tangy cream cheese. The bagel itself is decent, though not extraordinary. Nosh orders the dough from New York and boils in-house.
The latkas, potato cakes usually served around Hanukah with sour cream and applesauce, are large with thick shoestring potatoes fried to golden brown—the flavor and texture are both quite good—creamy enough to forego the side of sour cream, but savory enough you’ll want the applesauce. (Full order for $6.50 or one large latka for $1.50)
Then there’s the knish ($3.25)—a mashed potato and cream-stuffed puffed pastry turnover. These are the situations in which you eat a knish—your dog just died, you’re trying to move up a weight class or you deserve it. A knish is worth the rationalization—Nosh’s is fabulous.
Meanwhile the matzoh ball chicken noodle soup ($6) is perfect for convalescents, lost souls and light diners with its suspended herbs, thick-cut carrots, stewed chicken, egg noodle tresses and large matzoh dumplings.
Oh, but we haven’t even mentioned the dessert case—the seven-layer and carrot cakes higher than your face, the bombalinsky ($2 puff pastry stuffed with vanilla custard) that the owner rightly calls “a little piece of heaven,” the babkas and rugelach. Nor have we gotten into breakfast (served till 11)—the scrambles, hashes, challah French toast, bagels with pastrami, corned beef …(Recommended: the vegetable hash of roasted butternut squash, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, lemon, potatoes and fried egg). The terra incognita here is vast.
As for service, I was waited on by three different people. One seemed inordinately flustered, two botched my order—not a high crime if the server is friendly, apologetic and fixes it immediately, as they both did. But yeah, they could probably work on that.
The other issue at Nosh: If you eat inside rather than at one of the sidewalk tables, you’re sure to walk out smelling like a knish yourself. While the shotgun layout of the restaurant and the bar overlooking the open kitchen are a fun design, particularly if you like gazing at frying latkas, a perfume of oil pervades.
But guess what? I don’t care. Lovers of comfort food shouldn’t either. Alisa Turtletaub-Young, the owner, will call you “Hon” and “Sweetie.” You’ll leave with a happy tongue and a full belly. You’ll want to go home, light a candle and unbutton your pants. Shalom to you. Unbox that knish.